Comics debate is nothing to laugh at

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Remember what your mama said?

Polite company doesnít bring up three topics at dinner: politics, religion or comics.

That is what she said, isnít it?

The last of that trio breeds fightiní words just like the other two, only most of the comics bruises and scrapes are to the ego. Some readers slide right past the daily Funnies Page and skip the Sunday Comics, and life, to them, isnít bad. But to the diehards, no good day can begin without a hefty dose of favored comic strips. And thatís where the battle begins.

When a Press letter writer recently noted his affinity for a cuddly comic strip about a young family and their cats, the editor of this publication added a note, asking what other people liked or disliked.

Dumber questions have been asked, but we canít think of any off the top of our heads. The question was dumb because one of the fantastic things about comic strips ó like music, like books, like teams, like desserts ó is that almost everybody loves something but not everybody loves one thing. Even the Greatest Comic Strip of All time, Calvin and Hobbes, was not unanimous in its popularity. A 47-year-old man in Ajo, Ariz., was rumored to dislike Bill Wattersonís masterful creation.

And so with the Breaking Cat News letter to the editor, an informal survey began. As might have been predicted, the vast majority of readers responding to that simple, stupid question couldnít agree on a darned thing. Like your granddaughterís spilled spaghetti, it was all over the place.

So whatís the point? Itís this: The comics page is a smorgasbord with several factors determining what editors decide to offer. One is popularity of comic strips in other markets. If it does well in many other places, logic suggests itíll do OK here.

Another factor is local reader feedback. Unfortunately, most readers donít express opinions about comics until theyíre removed in favor of a comic strip that looks like itíll be more popular. Then the chorus of crying reaches a crescendo.

Still another major factor is cost. The Press spends about $70,000 on its comics each year, including fees to the syndicates that represent the artists, newsprint, ink and staff time. The price of comics only goes up, and in recent years so has newsprint and ink. Thatís a significant investment for a fairly small paper like The Press and explains why some papers have reduced comics or dropped their comics pages altogether.

For the record, weíre not planning any big changes to our comics lineup based on the latest feedback. Like mama also said, itís just good to know that people care.

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